Author: Kenan ROVSHANOGHLU
On August 13, Israel and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) reached an agreement to normalise bilateral relations that could mark a turning point in the history of the Arab-Israeli conflict. The event has already become the main reason for the growing tension in the Middle East. At the same time, the incident is fraught with risks, quite tangible ones.
In fact, the UAE is not the only Arab state to have established relations with Israel. Thus, Egypt and Jordan have maintained diplomatic ties with the State of Israel since 1979 and 1994, respectively. The UAE has become the third state on this list along with other countries.
But now the situation is different, and the process started by the Emirates can lead to serious consequences in the future.
Admittedly, the current military-political situation in the Middle East differs from the ones that existed in 1979 and 1994. The region is now facing more serious problems than then, including the rise of terrorism provoked by confrontations between religious, political and ideological views. Add to this a fierce struggle between the Muslim Brotherhood and the existing monarchical regimes of the Arab countries of the region. On the other hand, the so-called Iranian threat looms over these countries. The governments of the Persian Gulf countries are waging a series of proxy wars with Iran on the territories of Yemen, Syria and Iraq, considering Iran as a more serious threat to their power.
A similar situation has developed in relations between the UAE and Turkey. During the diplomatic crisis with Qatar (2017) and amid the current civil war in Libya, Turkey actually opposed the interests of the UAE and other Arab countries. In other words, the aggravation of the conflict of interests in the Middle East compels the Arab states to look for stronger allies, such as the United States and Israel. It is clear that cooperation with the latter against the Iranian threat is the best defense, given that it is impossible to remain an enemy of Iran and Israel at the same time. On the other hand, with a peace agreement with Israel, the UAE can also find new allies on the other side of the Atlantic and among the Western countries.
The second important outcome of reconciliation between Israel and the UAE is that, unlike Israel's relations with Egypt or Jordan, the process will be sustainable. It is expected that other regional countries follow the example of the UAE. Thus, immediately after the conclusion of the agreement between the UAE and Israel, the US president said that he believed in the speedy normalisation of relations between Israel and Saudi Arabia. However, the Saudi government stated that the main factor in the normalisation of relations with Israel could be the conclusion of a peace agreement between Israel and Palestine.
In fact, Donald Trump is the main architect of the reconciliation process between the UAE and Israel. In January 2020, his administration announced a new peace plan (Deal of the Century) for resolving the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. The difference between this plan and the previous ones was that the US does not request Israel to liberate the occupied territories, but only to stop the construction of new settlements there. In return, it is proposed to carry out new infrastructure projects, create jobs and so on in the current Palestinian territories.
Despite the obvious political disadvantage of the proposed plan for the Palestinians together with Washington’s recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel in December 2017 and the Golan Heights as Israeli territory in 2019, contrary to UN resolutions, the US actually left no other choice for the Arab countries and the weak Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas.
On July 1, 2020, the Israeli government planned to discuss in the Knesset the issue of the annexation of territories located on the west bank of the Jordan River. But the project was abandoned later "due to the prevailing international conditions." On August 13, it was announced that the UAE had agreed to normalise relations with Israel in response to Israel's abandonment of its annexation plan.
However, it is obvious that the normalisation of relations between the two countries is due to regional and international conditions, which are important not only for the UAE. They are also important for other Arab countries that are inclined to peace with Israel in order to get rid of the American pressure and harsh regional conditions. Sudan took the first step in this direction. A few days after the agreement with the UAE, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that a similar agreement could also be reached with the Sudanese leadership by the end of the year. Earlier, Netanyahu met with the current transitional military leadership of the Sudan.
Incidentally, after signing the agreement with the UAE, Netanyahu thanked the governments of Oman, Bahrain and Egypt for supporting the deal, possibly hinting at the expansion of the geography of similar agreements in the future. By the way, in October 2018, Netanyahu visited Oman, where he held high-level talks with the country's leadership.
If no major political events take place in the coming period, the involvement of other Arab states of the Persian Gulf in the process will be inevitable.
The UAE hopes to receive necessary support from the Jewish state. This is confirmed by the visit of the head of the Israeli intelligence service to the UAE immediately after the signing of the agreement, as well as the announcement of the expected visit of Benjamin Netanyahu to the UAE by the end of this year. Most importantly, media outlets reported on the ongoing negotiations to expand military cooperation between the UAE and Israel in the Red Sea. There is also information about the beginning of negotiations with the relevant Israeli companies on the supply of weapons to the UAE.
Nevertheless, the process of normalising relations is fraught with serious risks. One of them is the reaction of the Arab people to the agreement. Small but well-known circles of political activists in the UAE already protest the document. No matter how weak the President of the Palestinian Authority condemned the step taken by the UAE, the authority of Mahmoud Abbas and his recall of the Palestinian ambassador from the Emirates was a serious warning for the UAE. In fact, the process can lead to the increased pressure on the UAE both inside the country and by regional countries. All the Arab public opinion, dissatisfied with the peace with Israel, can protest against the UAE.
Unlike Egypt and Jordan, the UAE does not have a land border with Israel. Therefore, there was no specific need to establish diplomatic relations with the latter. Everyone understands that the restoration of relations with Israel is more a step towards strengthening the regional political interests of Abu Dhabi, rather than a desire to help resolve the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. As a result, Arab and Islamic public opinion in general will be clearly against the UAE, which can lead to even greater consequences.
So far, only Palestine, Turkey and Iran have condemned the agreement with Israel. The tension in relations with Iran has gone beyond political statements. Recently, the UAE Coast Guard opened fire on Iranian anglers in the Persian Gulf, after which Iran seized an oil tanker sailing under the UAE flag and arrested the crewmembers. It is unlikely that the incident develops into a serious confrontation between the two countries but the undercover struggle between them will inevitably intensify.
On the other hand, the agreement with Tel Aviv will intensify the split in the Arab world on the Palestinian issue, strengthen the positions of more radical forces supporting the armed struggle against Israel, in which the UAE may become one of the targets.
Undoubtedly, reconciliation between Israel and the UAE is the success of the US President Donald Trump. In less than four years as the country's leader, Trump has taken serious steps to resolve the Middle East conflict. By driving Tehran into a corner and putting the Islamic Republic's leadership in a temper with its tough sanctions, the Trump administration has improved relations with Arab countries and made them more submissive to the will of the United States. Recognition of Jerusalem as the capital and the Golan Heights as the territory of Israel can be considered Trump's foreign policy gestures towards Israel.
But in order to continue the series of successful achievements in this field, Mr. Trump should at least be re-elected for the next term. If he fails though, the political situation in the Middle East can change dramatically. That is why the victory of the incumbent host of the White House on November 3 is so important for the Middle East. Apparently, that's why Trump is counting on the support of the US Jewish community, which is the largest lobby in the country.
Trump's failure in the upcoming elections could completely change the current picture, given the different views and priorities between Democrats and Republicans on issues related to the Middle East. Among other things, Trump actively promotes his administration’s Middle East policy to confront the Jewish lobby with a fait accompli before the upcoming presidential elections. In other words, everyone understands well that if the American president is replaced, the current process will stop.
Anyway, the agreement with the UAE is a major success for the current Israeli government. Israel already maintains official relations with three countries, and this list may be extended in the near future. But the process also carries great risks, causing serious resentment among Muslim Arab peoples, who are not happy with the occupation policy of Israel. The rapprochement of the governments of these peoples with Israel for the sake of political interests can produce an opposite effect in the lower layers of the social pyramid, pushing radical armed groups to active force measures, up to the outbreak of guerrilla warfare. Since the current situation weakens hopes for establishing a just peace with Israel, the strengthening of radical tendencies, dissatisfied with the ongoing processes, is inevitable. We must not forget that today Hamas, the Islamic Jihad of Palestine, Hezbollah and dozens of other armed groups are focusing on the military liberation of Palestine.